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Smithsonian U.S. Women’s History Museum Gains Majority Support in House

Alice Paul and fellow suffragettes march from the Women's Party Headquarters to the White House in the spring of 1917. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON – More than two decades since it was first introduced, legislation that would establish an American women’s history museum on the National Mall has gained 227 cosponsors, which is enough support to pass in the House of Representatives.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.), lead sponsors for the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, celebrated the milestone last week with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who co-sponsored the original bill introduced in 1995. The U.S. does not currently have a national museum dedicated solely to contributions from women.

“In the most hostile Congress in history, we have found something we all agree on, and that is a national American women’s history museum on the Mall here in D.C.,” Maloney said during a press conference Thursday. “The people of this great nation, especially women, want, need and deserve a museum on the National Mall dedicated to telling the largely overlooked story of the contributions that women have made in shaping this country today.”

Despite the growing support, construction of the museum still faces significant financial hurdles because the Smithsonian is not currently able to support the project. Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told WAMU that the organization is overwhelmed with its current workload.

The Smithsonian recently finished efforts on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September just northeast of the Washington Monument. The Smithsonian is also planning an estimated $1 billion renovation for the National and Air and Space Museum, according to WAMU.

Recommendations for the museum began to take shape with the American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission Report, which was delivered to Congress in November. The plan called for construction financing through private donations and operating funds through the Smithsonian. The bill adopts both recommendations, and lawmakers have asked for hearings in three committees: Transportation and Infrastructure, Administration and Natural Resources.

There are two possible sites for the national women’s museum. The first is the National Mall’s South Monument site, which is located just southeast of the Washington Monument. The plot borders 14th Street NW, Jefferson Drive SW, Raoul Wallenberg Place SW and Independence Avenue SW.

The second potential location is the Northwest U.S. Capitol site, which is just northwest of the Capitol. The site borders Third Street NW, Constitution Avenue NW, First Street NW and Pennsylvania Ave NW. Based on the legislation, a board of regents would designate the site within six months of legislation passage.

“I believe with our record number of co-sponsors, we are going to get to the House floor this time,” Norton said Thursday. “Women are making history today not just by our record numbers in the House and Senate, but more importantly, throughout our society. Our country needs to know the names of its history-making women.”

The legislation advanced through the House economic development subcommittee in 2009 but was not considered on the House Floor. According to bill language, only 10 percent of material documented in 18 major American history textbooks details contributions from women, and only nine of the 91 statues in the U.S. Capitol National Statuary Hall depict women.

“This is not only going to enrich the lives of women, but the lives of all Americans,” Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday. “And it’s important for us to remember that the National Mall is special because it tells our uniquely American story, but that story is incomplete without paying tribute to the countless examples of courageous women who helped build America and sacrificed to ensure that it remains the land of the free.”

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are expected to sponsor companion legislation in the Senate.